|Grand entrance: The New Minh Hong Restaurant and Convention Centre may intimidate new comers at first glance. — VNS Photos My Ha
From humble beginnings, a popular restaurant in Vinh City has grown into an opulent wedding and convention centre, but Nguyen My Ha is thankful that the food has stayed straightforward and delicious.
It's been 15 years since we first had lunch at Minh Hong restaurant in Vinh City, 300km south of Ha Noi.
The restaurant used to be a single-floor fibro-cement roofed brick house on a large deserted piece of land. Inside, the place used to be full of people enjoying their lunch, sitting at tables that could seat six.
Minh Hong was popular among long-distance coach drivers. Though the restaurant's menu had local dishes only, the food was as good as the family meals cooked by mothers at home. There was no fancy tableware, just plastic tables and chairs, plus a special air-conditioned room with plastic table cloths.
It's almost the diner everyone would look forward to. The dishes were like the ones you would usually have at home, but the ingredients were fresh, tasty and well-cooked. Dishes included boiled chicken with julienned lime leaves (VND160,000 a dish), stir-fried white eggplants with rice-paddy frogs (VND140,000), simmered eel in fermented rice sauce with herbs (VND150,000), and mustard greens with field crab soups with pickled crispy tiny eggplants (VND30,000 a bowl).
The highlight of the meals we would have was boiled pig's uterus chops dipped in the local signature shrimp paste (VND200,000).
Many Vietnamese people like to say boiled pig's intestines dipped in shrimp pasteand eaten with aromatic herbs are the country's signature dish that anyone will want.
Well, I came to know about this dish only as an adult, when I was already working. During our childhood, we rarely had pig insides in our family meals. I had it only a couple of times when we had a wedding in our country home.
Once you've tried it, the taste makes you come back for more.
|Appetising: Free-range boiled chicken with julienned lemon grass would please any hungry stomach.
It's something not every home cook can make. Of course, you can try to make it, but it won't be as good as the one you get while eating out.
Some long heo (pig intestine) restaurants in Ha Noi that you can try are the ones at the rail pass on Le Duan Street, No 22 Hai Ba Trung Street or 12 Lo Su Street, where they have a special offering of fried liver and blood sausages.
In Ha Noi, I've heard stories about housewives making a fortune by selling a simple street delicacy or snack at a certain hour at a certain place. A famous little pig-insides shop of a street-seller had helped her put two children through college and buy a house in the Old Quarter.
Despite having known about the success of a few street vendors in Ha Noi, I couldn't believe my eyes when, a few years ago, a boy riding a motorbike showed us the new grand mansion that houses the Minh Hong Restaurant today.
The all-white marble and ornate gilded palace had a white limousine parked in the front. Looking at the real-life Cinderella story in front of me, I kept telling myself this was not a dream.
Inside long rows of 10-seater tables lined the large hall leading to a giant screen broadcast of VTV on the wall.
From a simple dining place, Minh Hong has become a wedding venue and convention centre for the people in Vinh.
Minh Hong Convention Centre
Comment: Delicious food in elaborately designed ambience, affordable prices
After the first shock, we were quite reluctant to enter it as we were looking for a simple place to have lunch, not an ornate palace to celebrate a wedding.
The boy escort insisted on showing us in. Except for the hall, the two large wooden tables displaying local delicacies were almost the same as before. They displayed special oranges from Vinh, shrimp paste, pickled eggplants and last but not the least, peanut brittle (cu do).
Vinh oranges used to be very sweet and juicy with a thin zest. Orange varieties are associated with a city's name, like the oranges of Sevilla in Spain. If transported to Ha Noi, one kilogram of Vinh oranges could be triple other oranges from other parts of the country.
When the dishes came, we were relieved that they were as tasty as before. Over the years, we had come to know the young waitresses by name. When we asked about a girl who used to be very nice to us, we were told she had gone somewhere to get married.
The girl who answered our phone call said the entire complex could cater to 1,450 guests at a time. Their wedding hall can host 500 people, but they also serve smaller groups for family dining or celebrations.
"Though many new services and menus have entered our list now, we do want to retain our faithful customers, who travel a long distance from Ha Noi to the south and always stop for lunch at Minh Hong. Our lower floor caters to their needs."
Our bond with this particular restaurant reached a high point, when friends in Ha Noi ordered 40, yes, 40 one-litre bottles of shrimp paste from Minh Hong. — VNS